Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version Share this


Source:  Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District

November 24, 2017 (El Cajon) - For the past decade, a Grossmont College Occupational Therapy Assistant class has proven that necessity is indeed the mother of invention.

To help answer the perpetual question of what an occupational therapy assistant does, students each year put on a fair to demonstrate simple, low-cost devices they’ve created to make everyday tasks easier for family members and others with physical impairments.

The homemade adaptive devices like Brenda Guzman’s “Tip Grip To-Go,” and Patricia Ambrosia’s “Garden on the Go,” are the kind of inventions so simple and nifty that they often leave viewers wondering why they aren’t already in existence.

The 21 students in instructor Darlene Cook’s assistive technology course demonstrated their projects during the program’s 10th Annual Assistive Technology Show Thursday night that drew a steady stream of visitors, including professionals in occupational therapy and rehab, families and friends of the students, and past occupational therapy students curious to see the handiwork of the latest crop of students.

“This event helps students identify the problems that people with physical limitations have and to use their imagination to come up with solutions that are low cost and made of easily acquired material to help in activities of daily living,” said Cook, an adjunct instructor who was among the college’s first OTA graduates in 1997. She has continued on to receive her master’s and also works as a licensed occupational therapist. 

As part of a semester project, the students created tabletop displays of their inventions and prepared short presentations, explaining the origins of their devices and how they work, the materials used, and the labor and cost of their handiwork. The devices were to be under $25 and constructed with common household materials.

For Guzman, the inspiration for “Tip Grip To-Go” was a 36-year-old business owner. Guillain-Barre, a rare syndrome that causes one’s immune system to attack the nerves, caused weakness and tingling in the shop owner’s hands that made even the simple act of removing coins from the cash register a near impossibility.

Guzman modified fingertip gel grips used for sorting papers and attached them to a retractable keychain for easy access and at a cost of $10.99, created a device that allows the shop owner to handle money and to use tools for repairs.

Ambrosia’s ‘Garden on the Go,” a modified cart on wheels, was inspired by her 80-year-old grandmother, who was finding it more difficult with the passage of years to enjoy gardening. By cutting holes to hold potted plants, adapting an egg carton and egg shells into a homemade seed-starter, attaching hooks for gardening tools, and adding a plastic container and lid to hold gardening soil, Guzman created a garden stand on wheels for less than $23 so that her grandmother could easily transport the tools of her favorite pastime.

“She loves it and the cart is the perfect size, just reaching her waistline,” Ambrosia said.

With aspirations of working in pediatrics or a mental health facility as a certified occupational therapy assistant, Ambrosia is training in the two-year program, the only one in San Diego County and one of three offered by a California community college. The three for-profit schools in California that offer occupational therapy assistant programs cost between $50,000-$60,000, compared to about $3,000 at Grossmont College, said Christi Vicino, a professor and program director at the college.

Occupational therapy assistants work under the supervision of an occupational therapist to provide patient treatment to people whose abilities to perform everyday tasks are threatened or impaired by developmental deficits, aging, mental health problems, physical injury or illness. They are employed in hospitals, rehabilitation facilities, skilled nursing facilities, schools, day treatment centers, outpatient clinics and other community agencies.

With the aging of the baby-boom generation, employment of occupational therapy assistants is projected to grow 29 percent from 2016 to 2026, Vicino said, citing the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Accreditation by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education allows graduates to take the certification exam administered by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy. In the past three years, 100 percent of the students in Grossmont’s program have passed the exam to earn the title of certified occupational therapy assistant. The employment rate over the past three years has been 100 percent, Vicino added.

Gabe Solis, who graduated from the program with an Associate in Science degree in June, started his job as an occupational therapy assistant at an adult day healthcare center just two weeks after finishing his classes.

“I really enjoyed the Grossmont College program,” said Solis, noting that he had applied simultaneously to Grossmont’s program and one offered at a Los Angeles Community College, but due to a long waiting list of applicants, he just received notification that he had been accepted into the one in LA. “I originally wanted into get into physical therapy, but the more familiar I became with OTA program, the more I grew to prefer occupational therapy as a career.”

Meeting four times week for three or four hours each night, the Grossmont course is demanding. The students next semester have two 10-week clinical rotations to complete the field work required of the program. More information is available online about the Grossmont College program. The information is also accessible by going to and clicking on the “Academics” link.

Error message

Support community news in the public interest! As nonprofit news, we rely on donations from the public to fund our reporting -- not special interests. Please donate to sustain East County Magazine's local reporting and/or wildfire alerts at to help us keep people safe and informed across our region.